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tv   Book Discussion  CSPAN  November 17, 2014 7:15am-8:01am EST

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first, that brief little introduction, and then i'm going to ask tom to read. i'm thankful that i brought a copy of his book, because he forgot to today. so tom's going to do a brief reading, and then he and i are going to have a conversation, and then we're going to open it up to q&a from the audience for the last 15 minutes or so. so gonna let tom take it away. >> very good, thank you. there's actually a quick story about how i got to know brad which i think bears telling here. i'd just moved to montana after having quit my last job at a newspaper. and we all know what's happened to american newspapers in the last decade, and it is a tragic story, and i left the paper that i had last worked for just feeling very bleak about the future of journalism and my role in it and what am i going to do, you know? i'm too tonallist to bag groceries, i really have no
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future. so is i'd moved up to missoula where i was living next to, as it happened, the railroad tracks in a dirt cheap apartment, and i decided, you know what? i really ought to get a telephone even though i can't really afford it. so i called up the local service provider, and they thoroughly botched the job and then sent me a bill for it. and, boy, was i mad. you know, how can they get away with this? this is outrageous. how can i fight this? i know, i'm going to write something about it. but, wait, i'm no longer a journalist, this is no longer possible. maybe i can freelance something. so i walked down to the local all-weekly which brad edited, and i told the receptionist, hi, i'm here, i'd like to write a story about how terrible the phone company is. [laughter] and she says, okay. wait just a minute. and then, you know, i hear her footsteps going up the stairs and, you know, i hear this -- and then i hear brad's voice for the very first time saying, no,
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no, i really don't have time for this. [laughter] but i i was so angry at the telephone company, i persisted. i asked brad out for a beer, and he accepted -- >> and you know how stories -- >> yeah, exactly. nothing good results from that. so we cooked up a story. i wrote the story, and i felt so good about that story. i thought, you know what? there is life in this old beast yet, and i am going to continue to be a writer. so i really have -- and i mean this sincerely -- brad to thank for restoring my faith in the power of the written word. so -- [applause] >> you haven't heard what it led to yet, so hold your applause. [laughter] >> all right. i had to tell that story. i love telling that story. all right. this book is about railroads, clearly. you never would have guessed.
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it's a method of conveyance that i'm absolutely fascinated with. and i never was one of those guys that was, you know, standing by the side of the tracks, you know, writing down locomotive numbers, you know, didn't have model trains growing up as a kid. everybody knows guys like that, perhaps there are some guys like that here, i hope there are. i love talking to those guys. but i never quite shared the fascination of trains as trains. for me it was always pointing to something different, something harolder to express. harder to express. the ways that we're connected as people. and for me, that's kind of the one word that perhaps lies underneath all the pile of words in this book, is connectivity. and there is absolutely, this is a huge cliche. amtrak used these words in a promotional campaign, there is something magic about a train. and i think many of you here
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feel that, and that's probably what drew you to this tent. thank you for that. so with that, that's the spark that got this book going, and i'm going to read quickly here, maybe just two or three minutes from the introduction, and this hopefully will provide sort of a window into where all of us, i think, can connect with the rail spirit. twenty years after i saw her, i still remember this young woman across the aisle from me on a train through a snowstorm in pennsylvania. she was half visible in the overhead lamp wearing a college sweat shirt and holding an open book on her lap. whatever she was reading was making her cry softly. i couldn't see the title, and i was too shy to ask, but the sight of her wiping away tears, emotionally transported into one world as she was physically transported into another, made me feel my individuality
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dissolving. snowflakes struck the dark windows without a sound, but unseen wheels hummed and outside realities could be subsumed in this linear realm of motion and warmth. five hours from pittsburgh and nowhere in particular. we were standing perfectly still, yet moving over parallel lines of steel, and she seemed like a ghost in the dim light. i cannot ride on a train at night to this day without thinking of her, wishing i had talked to her. but strangely grateful that she remained a cipher. railroads anywhere, but especially in america, have the power to invoke odd spells like this, a feeling that might be called train sublime. the title sway of the carriages, the chanting of the wheels striking the fish plates. to me, this sound sounds like, dear boy, dear boy, dear boy. the glancing presence of strangers on their own journeys,
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wrapped in private ruminations. these secret pleasures of a railroad summon forth a vision of sweet pastness, the lost national togetherness. the train is a time traveler itself, the lost american vehicle of our ancestors. or, perhaps, our past selves. we live in a society that was made by the railroads in ways we never think about anymore; our imported food, the beat of our music, our huge corporations and our method of stock financing. our strong labor unions, our abstract notion of time and our sense of everyday connection with people who may live far out of sight, but are made neighbors through mechanical means. under the skin of modernity lies a skeleton of railroad tracks. [applause]
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>> that was awfully short, tom. [laughter] and you kind of covered a lot of what i wanted to bring up in my first question, but i'm going to try to rephrase it and ask it anyway. your connection to trains, how far back does it go, where did it start? was it 20 years ago in pennsylvania and that girl sitting across from you? >> i think, yeah, it really was. having grown up in the u.s., you know, like most of us in sort of a, you know, a post-passenger train era, i'd always just sort of, you know, when i thought about it at all, you know, thought about amtrak as just sort of this curious, you know, mediocre thing that, you know, you almost never see. it's sort of like, you know, a greyhound bus only, you know, less accessible, you know? thought vaguely, well, it'd be kind of cool to ride a train, but, you know, that's something that grandpa did. this is something that is
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antique, you know? technology has passed it by. that was my understanding of it. and it was only when, as a college student myself sort of taking that trip and feeling like, oh, my gosh, there really is something here and i wanted to learn more and saw that, actually, the technology is not dated at all. this is an incredibly robust, efficient and absolutely delightful means of getting people around, and there's absolutely no reason for us to have turned our back on it as we did in the 1950s. none of it has to do with the fact that the train is in any way outdated. >> backwards a little built, your first exposure to the train was as an antique entity. you learned better but, obviously, that was your first impression. one of the pieces of the book,
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sort of a running theme, actually, that fascinated me throughout was how people reacted to it when it was a brand new technology. >> right. >> and i wonder if you could talk about the public reaction to the train when it was the first time such a creature had been seen on the face of the earth. >> right. this was the first real machine ever put on public display. this was the first widespread visual that humanity had of, you know, this chuffing sort of beast, this thing that was almost alive, you know? powered by steam, obviously, and set out there, and you could climb on it, and you could travel this unfathomable speed of 25 miles an hour which was a shock to the consciousness. unless you had been on a speeding horse before, that kind of velocity was unknown to you, and so there were newspaper reports all over the place in the 1820s and 1830s in
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britain and in the u.s. of people not being able to comprehend what it was that they were seeing. their mind had no vocabulary for it. and so there are curious reports of people just staring at it like the sky had just turned purple. they could not comprehend it. there was a thought that if you traveled on a locomotive, there would be this weird sense that some time would be subtracted from your life span, you know? that if you ride on a train for two hours, you know, you're somehow -- that's going to steal that two hours from you. and in india, there are widespread reports of people bowing down to worship the locomotive. it was an utterly alien thing and plenty of opponents. the aristocrats in great britain, the titled, landed class did what they could to
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stand in the way of railroad tracks being built across their favorite hunting yards. the duke of wellington famously said that this device is going to encourage the lower orders to move about. [laughter] it was viewed as a frightening, you know, sort of disrupting force, and the analogy is often made in business circles and elsewhere that, you know, we experienced this in our lifetime with the internet which, certainly, collapsed many once-stable industries including the newspaper business which is why i'm standing up here, sitting up here, instead of, you know, in a newsroom somewhere. who else didn't like -- oh, some preachers actually viewed the railroad as a tool of satan. and henry david thoreau viewed it as an evil influence because it prevented humanity, in his view, from paying attention to nature.
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and he noted the effect that it had on people's sense of time, that there was like this speeding up of time. this debate that we're having about the internet making us all 1250u7d, you know -- stupid, you know, poor attention spans, you know, that we can't sit down and just be quiet because we're always clicking, clicking, clicking. that debate happened with the railroad. it was thought railroad was going to make us all dumb. >> and? [laughter] >> you be the judge actually, yeah. [laughter] >> you might have made this point in the book and i don't actually remember because it was a while ago since i read it, but hearing you say that again, this idea that an objection to the train as a means of being able to be mobile and move around is probably a really good illustration of how much the worm has turned in a century since then because now if you talk about a train as mass transportation, it's -- the idea is that that's a restriction on a freedom, because we all should
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be in our own individual cars, right? >> right. >> so that argument sort of eats its own tail. coming back to the question of trains and policy and why they're antique now, can you talk a bit about what those policies are, how the train came to be, to make the turn from a revolutionary technology to an antique technology within such a very brief span of time? >> really quick period of time. >> yeah. >> yeah. first, let me talk about the politics of it. george will, george f. will, famous newspaper columnist, commentator, wrote a column called "why liberals love trains." and it is actually a really thoughtful column, and will is a thoughtful guy. but in this column he postulated that it's because you're herding people together, and it's a means of social control. that, you know, liberals just love mass transit, right?
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these are the people that pulled the lever for bonds to build these great transit systems in cities like austin. but yet i don't think there's ever been a consensus on the politics of the train. picture, if you will, the cover of ayn rand's famous novel, "atlas shrugged." if you can, you'll picture a locomotive and, you know, this sort of treatise for the selfish gospel of, you know, wealth accumulation above all things. one of her great heroes is the owner of a railroad, and, you know, these guys in the 19th century were some of the greatest advocates for laissez-faire capitalism and, you know, get government off of our backs and, you know, these safety regulations that are going to prevent brakemen from losing their hands. no, we don't want any of that. we've seen a flip that in today's world railroads are viewed generally as sort of the favorite projects of those who
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really like government spending, etc., which, you know, brings us to this idea why did the u.s. turn its back on our peerless passenger rail system in favor of the private automobile? you know? why do we have to get in our cars to drive to dallas? why can't we just get onboard the, you know, the texas flyer or what have you? it's not because necessarily the american people got together in a room and made that decision. what happened was -- there's a famous misconception that dwight d. eisenhower signed the highway act as a means of quickly evacuating american citizens from city-centers in case of a nuclear attack, and that eisenhower had been so impressed with the german autobans when he
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led the american army across europe. those were contributing factors. but the main reason why the united states did not double down on investment in its rail infrastructure is because for the perverse reason that american railroads survived the war without being bombed. in europe when they're looking for means to rebuild these shattered economies in germany, france and belgium, they had a litter of bombed-out railroad tracks and a lot of people who needed work, and they had seen the enormous successes of the new deal, these public works projects. and the energy went into rail building there. we didn't need to do that in the u.s. there were, there was heavy lobbying of congress by texas oil interests and by detroit that, hey, you want to stimulate the economy, you know, what we need to do is put every american in a car.
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this is famously a time of great consumption, it's when the public is really embracing this idea of the united states being the premier nation of the new world order and, you know, we have the best standard of living anywhere, and this part and parcel involves the liberty to get in our car and go wherever we want, go to the shopping center, drive to florida if we feel like it. it just so ties in perfectly with this american narrative of freedom. and trains are not that flexible. you're going when the train goes. you are captive to that timetable. and this is somewhat antithetical to what we want to do at that time. and i'll point out that, you know, the detroit automakers and the texas oilmen were not wrong. this really did put an enormous shot in the arm to the u.s. economy in multiple ways, and we're still live anything that world today. living in that world today.
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the point is that we didn't really choose it. congress chose it for us. in the '50s with this amazing project to build interstates. and i'm gonna make a -- i'm going to jump the tracks because trains are not just about politics, but about policy, and we don't want to get into too much of an argument about that. you also talk about trains as repositories of symbolism, symbolism of sex, of death, of power, romance, probably some others. this really opens the topic up for you as a writer, i'm sure. wonder if you could spend a little bit of time talking about the resonances of the railroad and of trains. >> oh, yeah. i mean, first of all, i mean, hollywood just has a gooey love affair with trains in a way that they do with no other conveyance, including the
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vaunted automobile. think of the wonderful movies that feature the train as either sort of a backdrop or an active device, you know? is -- silver streak, north by northwest, strangers on a train, of course, this wonderful burt lancaster movie called "the train." recently we've seen wolverine takes place, a wonderful train fight on top of the, on top of the cars. the hunger games, takes katniss into the capital, a high-speed train. snow piercer. incredible. with a train of all things. isn't this supposed to be that sort of, you know, fuddy-duddy antique? no. i mean, this is just a visually, really stylish, you know, really amazing way to sort of get characters talking to one another. and it's just a really, i think it's a very romantic way tog travel. and part of the reason is you do
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come into contact with people who will spill their guts, you know? i made a point of just trying to be very sociable on these trains, and that's not hard. it's not like, you know, on an airplane where if you talk to your seat mate, boy, that's a risk, isn't it? you don't know wh is. you could be bored off your keither for the next four hours until you get into miami. but a train is different. you can kind of wander in and out of conversations, you know? in this very graceful, civilized way. it's a big, roomy carriage, and it sort of mimics the way we sort of like to mingle with our fellow people organically. so i heard all kinds of crazy stories just sitting in the club car with a drink in front of me. and there is something about that sort of chuga-chuga and these towns slipping past the windows, you know, it gives you a sense of almost being transported in a kind of different dimension.
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and it creates a conviviality unlike that of any other way to travel. and so for me it's all about sort of meeting my fellow human beings. this book was reported from eight different countries, and i saw some amazing things ask met some a-- and met some amazing people overseas. i'm sometimes asked what was your favorite train out of all of that? the trans-siberian, the world's highest railroad to tibet, and i always have to come back, it's actually the southwest chief, for gosh sakes, that goes from chicago to l. a.. cuts through the midwest and kansas which i think is a beautiful state and, you know, through my home state of arizona, and i got to know my fellow americans in a way that just clearly would not have been possible, you know, driving, you know, i-10 and probably would never have happened on an airplane. so, for me, it's the human contact that makes in the most
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imminently civilized way to get from place to place. [applause] >> and we're done. [laughter] it's obviously a rich topic, and you're not the first person to write about it. as a fellow writer, i've tried several times to imagine the pitch meeting where you said, i'm going to write about trains, and an agent or an editor said paul thoreau, right? >> yeah. and that's an obvious comparison. those of you who have head him know his way of reporting on a country is simply to do what i did. he sure didn't steal it from me. he was doing this in the early 1970s, you know? simply get on a train and talk to all the random people that you meet. and thoreau's literary device is to say nasty things about them. he's sort of a famously grumpy guy, and he writes with such
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acid about some of the people that he meets. i'm told that in person he's actually a very nice guy and this is just sort of a pose. i wound up just really liking a lot of the people that i met and, you know, many of them, you know, telling fairly sad stories about, you know, their struggles. i met a number of people who had served time in jail, you know? that somehow just kept coming up, you know? i'd be talking with someone, and he would say, you know, when i was down in the joint, x, y, z, and, you know, that's always a good story. >> did you ever run into an uncomfortable story? did you ever feel trapped on a train? did you ever have that through experience? or was it a uniformly positive, enlightening,s positive experience for you. >> no. russia is a very difficult place to live, and the russian people have it really, really hard.
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when you ride the trans-siberian, particularly when you do it, as i did, in hard class, as it's called, third class, you're meeting a lot of people who have taken some kicks in the teeth. and i can recall, actually, being there like this hard bunk, and these guys -- these drunk soldiers show up, and they tell me -- one of them speaks english, and, you know, they're carousing, but it's not a nice kind of a carousing, it's kind of mean, and one of them says, yeah, we just got off the battle front in chechnya, and now we're going home, and, hey, here's a drink. and, you know, they pass me this large two-liter bottle of beer, you know, that guys have been swigging out of, and the beer is sort of kind of pick from some of -- opaque from some of the spit. so i found a polite way to pass, and that didn't endear me to them because with russians, you want to drink with them. no, i wasn't going to do that. one of them says, so, are you
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traveling alone? i said, yeah, i'm traveling alone. oh, you carrying any money? [laughter] and i said, you know, not a lot. and, oh, okay, are you carrying any jewel are i? -- jewelry? and i said, you know, i'm going to see what's going on in the club car. welcome home from the war, i'll see ya later, and then i just was hoping, please, don't follow me. but, no, they found other people to bother. so, yeah, i was kind of glad to see those guys get gone. and that's also, i should shay, some of -- say, some of the sadness of the train too. you know, you share the sort of stories and moments, and, you know, people will tell you amazing things. and then comes their stop and, okay. you know in your heart you're probably never going to see them again. and that, also, kind of bittersweet in that way. it's a met for for life, too, the train. >> well, i'm told we have five more minutes before we go to q&a, so i'm going to ask, i know
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you took kind of a kick in the teeth in the russia as well. is that an anecdote -- >> this is embarrassing. if you want to tell the story, that's fine. >> i'd really rather you do it. >> yeah. it's an embarrassing, stupid story. i really had wanted to ride the trans-siberian to the russian ocean, and that's exactly what i was going to do until the time i stepped off the train to, you know, take a day in this one siberian town where i got mauled by rabid dog. and, yeah, that was my exposure to the russian health care system where the doctor basically says, yeah, i wouldn't trust us. you want to fly back to the u.s. for those shots, and so i said, oh, jeez, really? so, yeah. that ended my trans-siberian trip halfway through. one day, i promise, i'm going to go back and finish it. >> i think that's going to leave time for one more real quick
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question. you obviously had to do -- i didn't do a final count. how many rail lines did you traverse for this book? >> eight. >> so you must have had to do a pretty tough winter. if you had had room or time or money to do nine -- >> to do nine? >> what would -- >> i do ten? >> if you can do it in three minutes. >> okay. there is a train called the beast which runs from -- the length of mexico. it's nicknamed this because central american immigrants on their journey to the u.s./mexico border to cross mexico which is in some ways even more harrowing than the desert crossing in arizona or texas, they will be hobos on this train, and there's a wonderful book called "the beast" which documents that journey. man, i wish i could do that trip. i mean, it's illegal and dangerous as heck, but, you know, i'd still want to experience that. there also is, sadly, no africa chapter.
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africa's got an amazing, tragic history with trains, and some of them still run. and had there been space, i either would have ridden across the democratic republic of congo which takes a month, i'm told, or a significantly faster what used to be called the lunatic express from mum bass saw in kenya to nairobi. and the story of the construction of that railroad is harrowing. that's where we get the word cooley, by the way. east indian labors were mainly brought in to kenya to build that road and were treated very poorly, and that's, that's why there is an east indian population in east africa. there>> excellent answer. i think we are close enough to
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our last quarter of hour, so i would like to turn it over to questions from audience. >> hi. i just wanted to say i was born in missoula and traveled back and forth across the country four times on the train. do you think it should or will be fixed or revived in the u.s. at all? >> that really depends on the price of oil, frankly. certainly, amtrak, the national passenger rail corporation, the quasi-federal entity that runs the show now, they are trapped in a hopeless situation because congress keeps asking, well, why aren't you making any money, and they can only shrug, and part of the reason is because, of course, low ridership, and the other reason is it's very
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difficult to make money doing this. other national systems like british rail, the scnf in france, excuse me, sncf, they're subsidized to a huge degree by their respective governments. and so congress by continuing to demand, you know, these totally unreasonable explanations from amtrak while refusing to actually pay for quality passenger service means, you know, we're going to be the this way for a while. i don't think it's ever going to go away simply because it is so useful, particularly in the northeast or corridor. but i'm an optimist, you know? i hope that we will see a reinvigorated passenger service. >> linda loomis, hello. >> i was charmed when you signed my book for me yesterday, and of all the books we took back into our hotel room last night, i snuggled up with yours. >> oh, well, thank you. >> and i was charmed at the very end to see the loop because my
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first train ride was as a brownie -- the precursor to the girl scouts -- riding from bakersfield up there. you've got it all. you've got sumner where former supreme court chief justice earl warren's dad worked for the southern pacific. and so anyhow, the whole intent of that is about high-speed train travel, bullet trains. do you think that first bullet train will be eventually built in california, and secondly, what country on earth is most progressive in terms of building very modern, high-speed rails in. >> very good. thank you. those questions are linked. yes, i am an absolute optimist. california is going to get this darn thing done. it's going to take a long time, probably not until 2035. it's going to cost upwards of $100 billion. it's expensive, but it's going to be an inspiration. it's not going to be a panacea,
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but it's going to show that this is a robust, durable method of technology. and the second part of that question, which nation is most progressive, hands down spain. they doubled down on investing in high-speed rails, and it absolutely destroyed the demand for domestic air flights within spain. it radically changed the aviation business in spain. but it caused more people to take international flights because you can take high-speed rail to the barcelona or madrid airports and go overseas. so they've done wonderful work there. if you're going to europe, please, please go to spain and ride their trains. china has also envelopessed major -- invested major money and an incredible high-speed rail network. because of the ways that it was built, i have my doubts about it. i don't know that that is a model for the to follow, but i do write about that extensively in this book.
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>> an optimistic perspective. along those lines, what do you see in the research that you read about the young generation getting interested in railroad engineering or the universities creating programs for that? i myself don't see much of that action, but perhaps you have seen it in the course of writing the book. >> yeah, young people and railroads, right in yeah. gosh, i asked an amtrak conductor, you know, this was on the the city of new orleans where sometimes he'll actually get on the pa and, you know, sing that song, the arkansas low guthrie -- arlo guthrie song. ♪ good morning, america, how are you? ♪ don't you know me? i'm the native son. ♪ i'm the train they call the city of new orleans. ♪ i'll be gone 500 mile when the day is done. everyone! [laughter] [applause] >> there's a first. >> yeah. i mean, he'll get on pa, and he'll do that just to amuse
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himself x he says, you know, people go, huh? [laughter] they haven't heard the song. it's too bad. and, you know, that's one of the lesser-traveled routes in amtrak's national network, from chicago to new orleans and, of course, vice versa. and i asked, you know, who's taking the train? and he said, well, you know, those who either, a, don't like to fly, avia-phobes are a big part of amtrak's customer base, those who are just afraid of flying. i met a lot of people like that. secondly, those who can't afford to fly, and i think amtrak actually does great service there because, you know, not everyone, not everyone has money in this country. it's just, you know, they deserve to get place to place, obviously, and so there's got to be a low cost way of doing that, that, you know, is not the indignity of the bus. and thirdly, college students. to answer your question, who make up a huge part of the
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ridership base of the city of new orleans. because it goes very close to the university of illinois, illinois state, you know, i rode it a lot when i was in college without ever knowing that i was going to write a book about it someday. and, yeah, i mean, it's an age when you're young. clearly, it's an age when you're young -- [laughter] it's an age when you're open to new experiences, you know? when the adventure of train travel sort of appeals. and it should be a rite of passage for college graduates in the u.s. to go get the rail ticket, actually, and to spend a couple months with a backpack and just going from youth hostel to youth hostel and just drinking it in. and the train is your ticket when you do that. it's still, i hope, enormously cheap. it used to be just $600 for the whole summer. so i, to your question, i
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discovered my, i think, passion for this when i was in my early 20s, earliest 20s, actually. >> how did the introduction of the diesel engine change trains? >> oh, yes. the introduction of diesel. it made them marginally more efficient. actually, a lot more efficient. and it certainly cut down on our coal dependence. this largely happened in the u.s. in the early 1950s. the d.c. can el engine, i believe -- diesel engine, i believe, had been invented in the '20s and '30s if i'm not mistaken on this, but the widespread transfer away from steam and towards diesel happened in the early 1950s. and i think by 1956 or '7, union pacific had swapped out all of its engines for diesel. it meant the end of the coal economy in large portions of the west.
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many towns just sort of dried up and blew away, you know? certainly, it was cleaner to do it that way. something of the charm, though, i think is lost. you know, there's something so charming about a coal-fired locomotive and the steam involved in that. but, you know, it's more efficient. >> [inaudible] natural gas-powered train? >> yeah, i believe, i believe there already are. and, certainly, you know, we're drilling more gas than we ever have in this country, so, yes. >> romantic train ride to take in the u.s. what's the most romantic train ride to take in the world? >> oh, define romantic, sir. [laughter] i could answer that a number of ways. gosh, i think i'll just be -- well, baseline is any train is romantic really except for the trans-siberian. [laughter] anywhere you go, it's going to be a great experience, i predict. for sheer amaze aing things out the win -- amazing things out
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the windows, a tie in between the coast starlight from san diego up to seattle where you just see incredible, incredible stuff. it's a wonderful -- consider it date night, actually. to book a sleeper on the coast starlight. you're not going to be disappointed. tie between that and the california zephyr which goes across the state of nevada at sunset, and it's just astonishing. >> before i ask this question, i should explain to you that my stepfather was a brakeman for northern pacific and that i'm a great advocate of warren buffett and charlie munger. here's my question: what have you discovered is the true value of the real estate involved in railroads? >> oh, wow. yeah. wonderful question. railroads were real estate empire builders because they got
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free land from the government. they got it in this checkerboard pattern. land that was essentially claimed from native americans, you know, congress decided how are we going to make the best use of it? let's just give it to big corporations and let them, you know, use it for the right-of-way and then sell it off and build towns. and it was actually, you could argue about the morality of that, but it worked brilliantly, you know? it made a lot of people rich, and it created astonishing corruption too. so railroads today have these incredible rights-of-way. and it was an executive with the southern pacific who figured out, you know, wow, we can do more than put gas pipelines down these right-of-ways, we can actually string fiber optic cable down them. so sprint, the telecommunications company, is actually an acronym that begins "southern pacific." and so to this day when you're traveling down those tracks or you see a freight rail, a good
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bet that there's a gas pipeline underneath those rails, that there's fiber optic cable strung along them. this is a big part of the reason why phil anschutz of quest got so rich, was off of owning these railroads which, you know, their value was exponential because of the real estate. >> thanks. i think your last answer there maybe partially answers my question, but it's about routes and, obviously, the route selected is a big factor in the success of certain routes. you mentioned the romantic ones, and the route of the proposed austin light rail has become very controversial, and i just wonder what is the typical method that has been used for where railroad routes go in europe and, i guess you mentioned in the u.s. often government giveaways of right-of-way. >> yeah. i mean, so many of our rail routes, obviously, were plotted in the 19th century, and it was
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where the railroad thought that -- [inaudible] could be planted, where they could entice german and norwegian immigrants who saw posters about this bountiful new land, they would send agents over to northern europe to try to convince, you know, ye poor, ye weary to come on over and take a free railroad ticket out to, you know, god knows where and, you know, in missouri and try and make a new life. many of them said to hell with this and went back. [laughter] enough stayed, my people are here because we got some railroad or land in kansas. some of those routes were very poorly planned. there's towns all over the great plains that arguably should not be there because they're economically insufficient. you could say that about the great state of texas, that many of these towns out here, you know, in the drylands were there for, you know, somebody's money-making scheme in the railroad that didn't work out
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too well, and so you've got, you know, a dying town out there. like i say, we live in the world of the railroads, we just don't realize it. so real quickly, to bring this to a close, the route of a new train -- particularly a high-speed train -- is incredibly political. and this is a fight that is sort of still being hashed out a little bit in california, how many stops is this bullet train going to have, and where is it going to go? because when you put a train stop somewhere, people are going to get very rich, you know? not just because of, you know, you've got a stop there, and it boosts the value of the land, you know? but that's a lot of foot traffic. if you know where that station is going, boy, you can flip that land for a lot of money. and spain has seen some corruption in terms of where the trains go. this has always been the case. trains and corruption have kind of gone hand in hand from the beginning. i talk about lots of less pretty elements about railroads in this book too, so this is not necessarily a valentine to the
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railroad. there's a lot of, you know, kind of nasty business in here too. >> we have one last question. >> yes. >> did you consider the fascination that children and adults have with model trains? >> yes. no less an authority than sigmund freud wrote about this as to why little boys in particular are, have sort of, you know -- have this sort of, you know, love affair with the train, what is it? and, like, being sigmund freud, you know, i think you can guess what he thought about this, and it's true that, you know, trains are a guy thing, aren't they? i mean, how many -- i think i'm on safe ground by saying this, you know? how many ladies do we know who are out there with the guys taking photographs of trains and, you know, noting locomotive numbers and all that stuff? i'll close with this story, you know, one of the -- when i knew that i was going to write this book, one of my first acts was to go see this guy in
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greenfield, new hampshire, who is one of these gentlemen who is obsessed and, you know, has this business that he runs out of his house where he videotapes trains, and, you know, sells them, you know, to his many customers. and he's got like 500 videos of trains, you know, just rolling past. you know, you think, wow, how boring is that. but people buy this stuff, and people love it. and, you know, i'm here t people buy this stuff and people love it. i'm not here to judge it. and i said, you know, dick, why do guys like trains so much? he looks at me like i've just asked him a foolish question in the world which is so obvious andy seth well, it's heavy equipment moving past. [laughter] >> thank you all so very much. please join me in expressing appreciation. [applause]
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last the last . .. you know, way, way back in 2001 i ws sitting around playing with some ideas, and broadband discrimination, net neutrality, i put them all into a paper, and one of them just hen
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